Iran executes former deputy defense minister, accusing him of being an MI6 spy

Ali ShamkhaniIRAN ANNOUNCED ON SATURDAY one of the most high-profile executions in its recent history, involving Alireza Akbari, who served as the Islamic Republic’s deputy minister of defense in the 2000s. Akbari, 61, a dual Iranian-British citizen, was reportedly executed by hanging on or before January 14.

As a government official, Akbari was associated with the Iranian Reformists, who were particularly prominent in the early 2000s during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Akbari served as deputy defense minister under Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani (1997-2005), a two-star general. General Shamkhani (pictured), an Iranian Arab, currently chairs Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. He is among the few Reformists who today remain in positions of power in Iran.

Akbari’s tenure was cut short in 2005, when Khatami was succeeded in the presidency by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner, who made sweeping changes in government administration. After he was briefly detained by pro-Ahmadinejad hardliners, Akbari moved to the United Kingdom in 2008, and established a small but reputable think-tank. By 2019, he had acquired British citizenship and was active in Iranian politics, but from afar. But in 2019, Akbari was invited to visit Iran by an unnamed “senior Iranian diplomat”, ostensibly to assist in negotiations with Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program. Having previously helped in international negotiations at the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s, Akbari agreed to travel to Tehran.

However, the invitation was part of what the Iranians later described as a “deception operation”, which marked the culmination of a “long and multi-layered process involving counterintelligence”. Akbari’s arrest in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport was the last time Akbari was seen in public. Iranian prosecutors later described Akbari as a “key spy” for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and accused him of working for an MI6 front company. In that role, they claimed, Akbari gave MI6 information about nearly 200 Iranian officials, for which he was paid over $2 million in a variety of currencies.

Iranian prosecutors also charged Akbari with providing adversary intelligence services with information that helped plan the murder of Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Dr. Fakhrizadeh was an Iranian nuclear physicist who was assassinated in 2020 in a Tehran suburb, with the use of a mobile robotic device armed with a machine gun. The Iranian government claimed in recent weeks that Iranian counterintelligence used Akbari to deceive MI6 after 2020, once it was found that Akbari was allegedly a British spy.

Akbari’s family, as well as the British government, have strongly rejected the Iranian allegations of Akbari’s espionage. Last week, the Farsi-language service of the BBC aired an audio message from Akbari, in which he claimed having undergone over 3500 hours of interrogation and torture by his captors. Furthermore, Western and expatriate Iranian watchers believe that Akbari’s execution plays heavily into domestic Iranian politics, as members of the Principalist (conservative) faction are attempting to weaken the influence of General Shamkhani in the Supreme National Security Council. There is concern among Akbari’s former colleagues from the era of President Khatami that the ongoing power struggle within the country’s governing elites may result in a broadening campaign of purges against Reformist elements.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 January 2023 | Permalink

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